Gary James' Interview With
Tour Manager for The Rolling Stones
and The Grateful Dead
Sam Cutler had one of the toughest jobs going. He was a Tour Manager, a tour manager for two of the biggest acts in the world, The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. In his book, You Can't Always Get What You Want (ECW Press) he writes about what it was like to be on the road in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sam Cutler talked with us about those days.
Q - Sam, you call Australia home these days. What brings you to the U.S.?
A - To see friends. To sell some books hopefully. Do some interviews. Stuff like that. I haven't been here for three years and I've got lots of people I know and love here I'd like to see. And it always helps my book to be around and talking to people about it.
Q - You haven't written a new book, have you?
A - No. I'm still in the middle of it all.
Q - Why did you decide to live in Australia?
A - I love Australia. I'm an Aussie. Happy to be so. My former wife is Australian. My kids are Australian. It was the natural thing to do.
Q - Now that you put it that way, it makes perfect sense.
A - Yeah. Beautiful country. It's very special.
Q - Did you know Brian Jones?
A - No. I can't claim that I knew him, no.
Q - But in this book of yours, you are convinced that Brian Jones was murdered?
A - Many people are.
Q - I've been hearing that for years. Why would anybody want to murder Brian Jones?
A - Good question. I mean there is a variety of reasons. I think the police investigation was completely amateurish. There was no sympathy for Brian Jones in those days you know. Rich Rock Star Drowns In His Own Pool. The police were quite happy to accept that as gospel and not really investigate properly. I think the people who were working for Brian were ripping him off. The day after it happened, people were there, burning all of Brian's papers. It was a crime scene. A man had been murdered there. None of the furniture or any other valuable items from that house has ever surfaced, which makes you wonder what happened to it all.
Q - Whoever had access to that house, whoever had keys to that house, that person would know.
A - Yeah. That person was Keith's former bodyguard and right-hand man who went to work for Brian, Tom Keylock.
Q - Did The Stones ever say they believe Brian was murdered?
A - I don't know what they would think.
Q - That never came up?
A - No. It's not the kind of thing you sit around and discuss.
Q - What's the difference between a Road Manager and a Tour Manager?
A - There's a big difference. Tour Managers don't lift things.
Q - You weren't really aware of what you are getting yourself into, were you?
A - Yes, I was. I don't think that's true. I'd been on tour with lots of bands before. Nobody is quite prepared for going on tour with The Rolling Stones and the general level of madness. You go on tour with one band, you go on tour with another band. A lot of it is the same stuff. People gotta arrive at certain times. People gotta have certain kinds of equipment. All of these problems are applied to a small band or a big one. It's a matter of intensity with The Rolling Stones if you like. The intensity of The Rolling Stones experience is a little bit more than a band playing at a local bar. It certainly was at the end of the '60s.
Q - And they are still playing the big venues, selling them out.
A - No, they didn't.
Q - They didn't?
A - No. They didn't sell out the Oakland show. They gave $600 tickets away for $80 in order to get the room full.
Q - I didn't hear anything about that.
A - There you are.
Q - There is no school you can go to to learn how to be a Tour Manager, is there?
A - Not really. It's kind of like there is no school to go to, to learn how to be a proper person, if you know what I mean. There is no school. You need a certain kind of personality, a certain kind of temperament. A certain amount of brazen chutzpah and a certain hard to define leadership quality that sees stone fleet musicians trust that you have made the right decision.
Q - How many people did you have working under you or were under your supervision?
A - With The Rolling Stones I was looking after the band, the musicians. So, I wasn't involved with the lighting or the sound or anything like that or even making the travel arrangements. I was just solely involved with looking after Mick and Keith and the other Mick and Charlie and Bill when we were on tour. The Grateful Dead it was a similar thing except with The Grateful Dead I did everything. I took care of all the travel arrangements, all the bookings for the shows. Everything. So, in effect I worked much harder in a way with The Grateful Dead than with The Stones. The Stones was a bit of a luxury. It was a lot less bull shit having to look after The Grateful Dead. Each position, as it were, has its own challenges. The challenge with The Grateful Dead were they should be financially successful, but also the people should have fun doing what they're doing. It wasn't a job. The Grateful Dead didn't see being in The Grateful Dead as being a job. It was a vacation, you know. They wanted to love what they were doing. The fun was high up on the list for priorities. I don't think fun has ever been much of a priority for The Stones.
Q - When you were with Mick Jagger, was he interested in the business side of Rock?
A - Always.
Q - Did you see him as a good businessman?
A - Well, I saw him multitasking. Those days Keith was a bit on the missing list, so Mick just took over and ran The Rolling Stones as it were. He is a very interesting guy. He is like Bowie, you know. He is kind of self managed. After his experiences with Alan Klein, Mick just decided he was going to be in charge with everything to do with The Rolling Stones and he made the decisions.
Q - Then, he is the leader of The Rolling Stones, correct?
A - Well, there's two leaders, aren't there? There was Mick and Keith. There is the perennial Glimmer Twins psycho drama.
Q - You knew Janis Joplin. You knew Jimi Hendrix. Did you know Jim Morrison?
A - You know what? I never did get to know Jim Morrison. I saw him play a couple of times. I'd loved The Doors. They were a fantastic band, but I never got to really know him. A very dear friend of mine looked after him for many years, a guy called Tony Funches. He was the African-American cat that was the bodyguard for The Stones and after The Stones he went on and worked for The Doors and looked after Jim. But, I didn't know the man.
Q - You write about Janis Joplin that she was, "radically different from any woman I've known." When you were in her company, did you ever think to yourself, this woman is not going to live a long life?
A - You know, I never felt that. All of us lives on that kind of precipitous edge. That's how people lived in those days. Some of us didn't survive. But I never thought what you are saying. Ever. We were all very shocked and saddened when it happened. But it's like the old thing, isn't it? My generation had to learn some pretty tough lessons, which is don't mix your drugs with alcohol.
Q - I never understood why someone in a position like Janis Joplin would turn to drugs in the first place.
A - Well, there's as many answers to that question as there are people on the planet.
Q - Janis Joplin dies. Keith Richards survives.
A - Some people drive cars and die in car accidents. Millions drive cars and don't die in car accidents. There's always kind of a statistical inevitability that people will die. People die from eating peanuts. They've got peanut allergies. I'm not meaning to be heartless, but with any human activity there is a downside. There are risks attached. So the people who tend to be risktakers are logically more at risk than others. Musicians traditionally have been risktakers when it comes to fun and over indulgence.
Q - You also write, "I used to think, who would want to be Janis Joplin or any famous artist?"
A - I still think that.
Q - Yet, there seems to be no shortage of people waiting to step up to the plate and say "Here I am!"
A - That's right.
Q - Doesn't that amaze you?
A - Yeah. It's kind of an illustration of the maxim: Ignorance is bliss. There are a lot of Rock 'n' Roll stars that fight their way up to some pre-eminent position and then feel very uncomfortable when they arrive there. Michael Jackson I think would probably be one of the great examples of this.
Q - And he was a child star!
A - Yup.
Q - So, if anyone knew what to expect, it would've been Michael Jackson.
A - It's very difficult to make a life over a long period of time in the music business and survive. You've got to take your hat off to Mick and Keith. They survived. They're still making music. Lots of people didn't survive. Morrison. Janis. Hendrix. Pigpen. God knows how many people. And died of cirrhosis of the liver. Phil Lesh had some liver problem and had a liver transplant. If Pigpen had lived longer, he would've gotten a liver transplant. Who knows? They are all unfortunate things, aren't they?
Q - They are. You had a chapter in the book about how hellish it was to get The Grateful Did on commercial flights. Why didn't they have their own plane?
A - Well, The Grateful Did started as a small band. They didn't start out being this massive band.
Q - So, eventually they got their own plane?
A - Yeah. Eventually they traveled in style and comfort.
Q - You didn't have much use for Bill Graham, did you?
A - (Laughs). I'd loved the fights with him. I mean, Bill Graham was on the other side of the fence. I was representing my artists, my artist's interests. So, we had lots of fights. We respected one another even though we did have some epic battles.
Q - I've heard that the money he cheated artists out of, he sent to his sister in Switzerland. I understand she owns a trucking company in Zürich.
A - Yeah, well, whatever. Good luck to him in one sense because he made money. You know what they say? Behind every great fortune lies a crime.
Q - I believe that.
A - Sure.
Q - Are The Rolling Stones in fact The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the world?
A - One of them. From my own taste, I love The Rolling Stones. I love The Grateful Dead. I wouldn't put one in front of the other. It's like comparing apples to oranges. But they are both amazing bands, that's for sure.